Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2018: Favorite Songs

First on my to-do list as the year comes to a close is to list the individual songs that inspired and entertained me the most in 2018. Some of these may have come out in 2017, or in a few extreme cases, as singles in 2016 that didn’t make it onto an actual album release until more recently. Either way, it was all new to me this year, or else I heard it in late 2017 and I had a belated reaction to it. Explanations and video/audio links are given for the Top 30 – for the rest, if you’re curious, just click the review links where provided to learn more.

As always, many of these songs (limit one per artist) are collected in my 2018 in a Nutshell playlist over on Spotify.

1. “Anywhere You Go”
The Last Bison
SÜDA
This jangly dance-rock tune is the best evidence that Bison’s risky change in sound paid off in huge dividends. Everything about this song is blissfully catchy, and the buildup from the bridge back into the final chorus was probably the most spine-tinglingly enjoyable moment in any song I listened to in 2018. All in a song that promises to leave behind fame and fortune if that’s what it takes to close the gap between two lovers who feel as distant, yet still tethered to each other, as a planet and its satellite.

2. “Apollo”
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Young Sick Camellia
This space travel-inspired soul/funk jam was the rare song that managed to get me excited about a band I hadn’t gotten into before, in a genre I very rarely listen to, long before the actual album was released. I can’t sing with anywhere near the skill and passion (and sheer range – check those ludicrous high notes at the end!) of Paul Janeway, but damned if this song doesn’t make me want to try at the expense of my own vocal chords.

3. “5 Light Years”
Mae
Multisensory Aesthetic Experience
Funny how the top three songs in my list all seem to involve astronomy and/or space travel in some way. Mae came back strong with this post-hiatus single, which is one of the meatiest rockers in their canon, upping the ante on the dense and delightful chord progressions and the conflict and resolution themes last heard on their (M)(A)(E) project in 2009/10.

4. “Dressed to Suppress”
Metric
Art of Doubt
Everything I love about Metric is somehow condensed into this five and a half-minute epic that comes plowing right through the speakers with all the energy and efficiency of a German freight train. The dark but insightful lyrics hit the nail on the head regarding humanity’s tendency to want most what we don’t have, only to find that those who do have it tend to think the grass is greener on our side.

5. “Gold Rush”
Death Cab for Cutie
Thank You for Today
In a huge departure from the standard Death Cab for Cutie sound, sampling and drum loops and slide guitars are used to intriguing effect as Ben Gibbard turns his attention away from the usual relationship woes and toward the city he calls home, which is gradually losing its identity due to gentrification. The metaphor of digging for gold beneath the ground of those old dives and concert halls his band once played when they were first getting started out is a really clever one.

6. “Shadow of the Pines”
The Innocence Mission
Sun on the Square
Regardless of whether it’s the sunny height of summer or the coldest depths of winter, this gorgeous and delicate song always whisks me away to a place deep in the woods that is perfect for solitude and reflection. I knew The Innocence Mission was capable of breathtaking lyrics and melodies, but I never thought a song of theirs could speak to me on this deep of a level.

7. “Angels”
DeVotchKa
This Night Falls Forever
Is this a song about the bond between two soldiers hunkered down in a foxhole, or an illicit tryst between two lovers? Either way, this one rocks with an intensity not normally found in DeVotchKa’s toolkit of Latin and pan-European sounds.

8. “Sweet Dew Lee”
Belle & Sebastian
How to Solve Our Human Problems
I love how this song morphs and meanders throughout its six and a half minutes. It’s like Steve Jackson and Stuart Murdoch had both started writing their own forlorn love songs in parallel, about what could have been if they’d gotten the girl twenty years ago, and then found a brilliant way to merge the two together. “Bedazzled” is the best word to describe how I feel at the way this song segues from old-school jangle pop to glitzy disco-rock, with decadent chord progressions throughout.

9. “Hard Times”
Paramore
After Laughter
This is the song I once rejected as “trying too hard to be catchy” after hearing snippets of it late last year. Man, I had no idea how effective it was at that, and I’m not sure why I ever thought that was a bad thing! This is an effective slice of aggressive dance-rock that sharply contrasts its upbeat musical mood with the admission that sometimes you’re just going through total crap and you need to admit it’s not getting better any time soon. Who’s still gonna hang out with you when you’re in that bad of a funk? Whoever can do that without trying to force you to be happy again before you’re damn good and ready, is a true friend indeed.

10. “Dark Spring”
Beach House
7
The addition of live drums and electronic flourishes to what was previously a stubbornly minimalist sound by design worked wonders for Beach House at the beginning of their seventh album. I’ve never been so mesmerized by a song of theirs – it sounds like something I would have been equal parts intrigued and beguiled by if some shoegaze-y underground band had released it back in the 90s. Even if the hazy vocals make it hard to understand the stream-of-consciousness lyrics, the song’s so damn good that I don’t even care. That’s a rare thing for me to say.

11. “Weight Lifting”
Katie Herzig
Moment of Bliss
I’m always going to think of this as Katie’s “coming out song”, even though the actual lyrics aren’t super-direct about it. This song has all the bounce that can be heard in earlier songs of hers such as “Way to the Future”, and it brings a sense of elation with it as Katie finally feels a weight being removed from her, finally allowing herself to realize the person she really loves was right there in front of her all along, no matter how much she might have tried to deny there was something real there.

12. “Forgiveness”
Paramore
After Laughter
Paramore went and wrote themselves a Haim song. That’s the best way I can explain the sound of this one. But I think it’s a song Haim would be honored by, rather than it making them feel ripped off. The observation at the core of this one – that forgiving someone who has hurt you takes time, can’t be forced despite how much you know you should forgive them, and is not the same thing as forgetting what they did to you – is one of the most insightful things I’ve heard all year. And I love how the subtle shifts in the rhythm of this song allow it to have one foot in the sensitive ballad zone while the other is firmly planted in the bouncy pop zone.

13. “10-20-40”
Rina Sawayama
RINA EP
I hesitate to call this blend of late 90s/early 2000s teen pop and glam rock “addictive”, because it’s about the side effects of antidepressants and how they can turn you into a shell of a person you barely recognize, all while those around you are none the wiser. Still… listen to that screaming guitar solo. This is the work of a mad genius.

14. “Dive”
Beach House
7
Wow, two Beach House songs in the Top 20?! Usually there’s one obvious highlight on a Beach House album, and the rest is a genuine struggle for me to appreciate. But the duo really stepped up their game with this one, fooling us into thinking it was going be their usual slow and ethereal brand of hazy minimalism for the first half of the song, before turning expectations on their head as a sea of thick guitars and drum loops come crashing ashore in the song’s climax. All in service of an intriguing lyric that finds two lovers taking a “deep dive” to better understand each other, despite whatever conflict drove them apart or secrets they might have had to hide.

15. “Hot Thoughts”
Spoon
Hot Thoughts
Some random guy on a Tokyo street hit on Britt Daniel’s girlfriend right in front of him. Rather than letting it turn into an ugly altercation, he kind of admired the attempt, and he went and wrote a song about it from the dude’s point of view. A song with zippy guitar riffs and clanging percussion sounds galore. Good luck ever getting this one out of your head.

16. “The Instrument”
Wye Oak
The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs
The insane time signature of this song, with the drums taking off at breakneck speed, was a hell of a way to get thrown into the deep end with this band. But also an incredibly fun way to do it, once I wrapped my head around what was going on. The guitars and vocals seem almost deliberately designed to throw you off the scent in terms of pattern recognition, yet there’s a recognizable and satisfying structure to it all once you give it a few listens.

17. “Rose-Colored Boy”
Paramore
After Laughter
Yet another highlight from the Paramore record that just wouldn’t quit turning them out, this 80s-inspired banger is for every woman who wishes men would stop saying stupid shit like, “You should smile more!” Don’t ever tell Hayley Williams how she’s supposed to feel, or how to express her feelings in a way that makes them more palatable to others. If there’s any truth behind this song (and she sounds pissed off enough to make me believe it’s 100% truth), you WILL regret it.

18. “Melissa”
Kevin Max
AWOL
If you’ll forgive the rather obvious borrowing of guitar textures and chord progressions from The Cure‘s “Love Song”, there’s a quite a bit to enjoy about the opening track on KMax’s best album in years, as he and a (presumably fictional) lover find themselves ready to elope, standing nervously before a priest with the weight of the decision they’re about to make bearing down upon them heavily. This one might actually gain even more narrative depth after listening to the Romeo Drive album Kevin put out later in the year, what with the emphasis on listening and that entire album being about an android of some sort that is programmed to do nothing but love and listen.

19. “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”
A Perfect Circle
Eat the Elephant
This sharp, sardonic sendoff to the earth, which compares a number of recently deceased celebrities to the dolphins from The Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy leaving the Earth before things got really messed up, is way bouncier than Tool could probably ever get away with, which I guess is why Maynard James Keenan saved it for APC. Aside from the darkly witty lyrics, the real stroke of brilliance is how well the piano, bells, timpani and other classical elements integrate with the full-bodied, anthemic rock sound.

20. “The Last Thing”
Sawyer
Easy Now EP
This breezy pop song about an impending breakup is downright adorable. It’s also alarmingly ill-advised – the two know they should be together, yet both seem determined to drag things out for a year or two because they’re not truly over each other yet. The inherent naivete behind it is part of what makes it so charming. There’s a lot of playful riffing here that emphasizes Sawyer’s best strength – two girls and their guitars, singing their hearts out over their shared heartache.

21. “Lucid Dream”
Owl City
Cinematic
The reason Cinematic shows up on my “Worst of 2018” list (uh, spoiler alert!) is because Adam Young is at his weakest when he strays too far from the imaginative synthpop that made him an unlikely success story star back in the day. This track, which is a dark rave filled with surreal dream imagery, has the perfect blend of ambiance and energy, of nonsense and compellingly cheesy encouragement, to make me recognize it as one of Owl City’s all-time best, even in an era where I’m 99% sure the vast majority of Young’s best work is only visible in the rear-view mirror.

22. “Throwback”
Jim James
Uniform Distortion
James knew how to press all the right nostalgic buttons with this one. It’s a song about notalgia for the way things were, with the audacity to optimistically claim all that potential we once felt as youngsters can still be alive and well today. Even with the muddy guitar tone and the raggedy vocals, he still comes up with an incredibly smooth and seductive melody here (seriously, I even had this song appear in a dream, in which a friend was apparently jamming on the bass with James and asked me if I wanted to hear the most beautiful chord progression in the world, which was somehow based around this song even though I’m fuzzy on the details). There’s liberal space allotted for a triumphant guitar solo in the bridge, and I find myself never wanting it to end.

23. “Lifer”
Wye Oak
The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs
The way Jenn Wasner gently caresses her guitar, in this exquisite ballad about wanting a live that is fully lived rather than half-assed or phoned in, gives no warning to the brilliantly messy guitar solo that is gonna steal the show in the middle eight. That’s when it turns a corner from “mild-mannered, but beautifully compelling” into a thing of true artistic brilliance.

24. “Deliverance”
Chvrches
Love Is Dead
Blind adherence to religious dogma comes under fire in this song, which for me was the underdog highlight of an album stocked to the ceiling with hits and likely fan favorites. You can double down on your stubbornly held beliefs if you want, Lauren Mayberry seems to be saying here, but you’d better hope you’re right, otherwise you’re doing a ton of damage to society for no good reason. There was no song in 2018 that more clearly outlined my frustration with the fundamentalist flavor of Christianity.

25. “Now or Never Now”
Metric
Art of Doubt
Also making a compelling case for finding the time and space to rediscover yourself in a place of solitude, but in a much denser setting, is this glowy synthpop number from Metric that emphasizes the very best of the band’s electronic leanings. There are so many wonderful layers of both live and digitized instrumentation here – it’s like a deep reflecting pool that I get lost in every time I stare at it.

26. “Tyson vs Douglas”
The Killers
Wonderful Wonderful
This one’s definitely a holdover from 2017. I loved the song then, but it fell just outside my Top 100 at the end of that year. And my love for it increased greatly as I listened to it more this year. It’s a tragic song that finds a young boy confronting the harsh reality that his heroes are fallible, and making a valiant attempt to hold back his tears and anger even though he knows he’s bound to succumb to the anguish, because recognizing your own fragility is part of healthy development. It’s rare for a song based around a sports analogy to punch me in the gut this hard. I guess you could say this one’s a real knockout.

27. “GotItBad”
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Young Sick Camellia
This slippery funk jam was a stellar follow-up single after “Apollo”. Though cryptic in places, it confronts Paul Janeway’s love/hate relationship with the politics and culture of the South, something which is inextricably a part of him and yet that alienates him at times. It’s one of the most dense and intriguingly written tracks and on album that has no shortage in that department.

28. “Champagne”
My Brightest Diamond
A Million and One
Shara Nova takes a surprising electropop turn on one of the rare My Brightest Diamond songs I’d consider a “banger”. The warped, pitch-shifting synth bass notes set the tone perfectly, warning you that pretty much anything goes in a song that compares the rising of champagne bubbles to the top of the glass to a woman’s unbridled optimism as she starts over in the wake of a messy relationship that fizzled out. She won’t be pigeonholed as an artist, and she sure as hell isn’t gonna let any man keep her down.

29. “Get Out”
Chvrches
Love Is Dead
I might have a dark horse pick as my personal favorite from Love Is Dead, but I’m no idiot. This song is ridiculously catchy, and despite my initial misgivings about its almost mind-numbingly repetitive chorus, I got over myself once I realized it was hella fun to sing along to. This is the best example of Chvrches realizing that if they were going to be even more aggressively poppy than on their previous albums, they might as well pull out all the stops. And as much as I love the loud, buzzing synths and fake handclaps and all the other elements that conspire to make me a slave to the rhythm, the real reason this song’s a winner is because you can strip it down to a delicate acoustic version (as heard in the band’s Spotify Sessions and later the Hansa Session EP), and it’s every bit as compelling. That’s some excellent songcraft, right there.

30. “Loveless”
Lo Moon
Lo Moon
Despite my criticisms of the overly clean sound and stubborn refusal to crank up the tempo throughout most of their album, Lo Moon struck gold with their very first single, and it’s still worthy of the hype it got despite the lack of a compelling follow-up elsewhere on that album. The programmed drum loop is absolutely hypnotic, the live drum fills in the chorus just make my heart sing, and despite the abstract lyrics, the tragedy of a doomed relationship due to both participants being unwilling to take a genuine risk on each other is strongly felt. This one builds up and releases energy in a delicate, classy, but also exploratory way, much like a really good Elbow song. (Come to think of it, there’s a cover version I’d love to hear someday.)

31. “You & You Alone”
Umphrey’s McGee
It’s Not Us

32. “Straight Shot”
DeVotchKa
This Night Falls Forever

33. “Return to Me”
Kindo
Happy However After

34. “Woman”
Lucius
Nudes

35. “White Noise”
Steven Page
Discipline: Heal Thyself, Pt. II

36. “Feet Don’t Fail Me”
Queens of the Stone Age
Villains

37. “Only Us”
Thrice
Palms

38. “Forever”
Chvrches
Love Is Dead

39. “Everybody Knows”
Kimbra
Primal Heart

40. “Feel It Still”
Portugal. The Man
Woodstock

41. “More Than You Bargained For”
Sucré
In Pieces EP

42. “The Doomed”
A Perfect Circle
Eat the Elephant

43. “NASA”
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Young Sick Camellia

44. “Idle Worship”
Paramore
After Laughter

45. “Miracle”
Chvrches
Love Is Dead

46. “Under the Wheels”
Calexico
The Thread that Keeps Us

47. “I’ll Be Your Pilot”
Belle & Sebastian
How to Solve Our Human Problems

48. “Remind Me”
Umphrey’s McGee
It’s Not Us

49. “Grudges”
Paramore
After Laughter

50. “Don’t Look Away”
The Last Bison
SÜDA

51. “Can I Sit Next to You”
Spoon
Hot Thoughts

52. “I Want to Make You Proud”
Katie Herzig
Moment of Bliss

53. “Flores y Tamales”
Calexico
The Thread that Keeps Us

54. “Poor Boy”
Belle & Sebastian
How to Solve Our Human Problems

55. “Sugarboy”
St. Vincent
MASSEDUCTION

56. “Let It Die”
Mae
Multisensory Aesthetic Experience

57. “Look Out From Your Window”
The Innocence Mission
Sun on the Square

58. “She Remembers Everything”
Rosanne Cash feat. Sam Phillips
She Remembers Everything

59. “The Girl Doesn’t Get It”
Belle & Sebastian
How to Solve Our Human Problems

60. “Sober”
Flint Eastwood
This Is a Coping Mechanism for a Broken Heart EP

61. “The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs”
Wye Oak
The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs

62. “Tunnel Vision”
Rina Sawayama feat. Shamir
RINA EP

63. “The Good War”
Kimbra
Primal Heart

64. “Severed”
The Decemberists
I’ll Be Your Girl

65. “Graffiti”
Chvrches
Love Is Dead

66. “Human Convention”
Kindo
Happy However After

67. “High Enough”
The Gray Havens feat. Propaganda
She Waits

68. “Pressure”
Muse
Simulation Theory

69. “Live in the Moment”
Portugal. The Man
Woodstock

70. “It’s All Part of the Plan”
Punch Brothers
All Ashore

71. “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome”
Rina Sawayama
RINA EP

72. “Upward”
Umphrey’s McGee
It’s You

73. “Northern Lights”
Death Cab for Cutie
Thank You for Today

74. “Bad Luck”
Neko Case
Hell-On

75. “PARAD(w/m)E”
Sylvan Esso
(non-album single)

76. “Put Your Money on Me”
Arcade Fire
Everything Now

77. “Game to Lose”
I’m with Her
See You Around

78. “Blood on Blood”
Thrice
Palms

79. “Gravity”
Steven Page
Discipline: Heal Thyself, Pt. II

80. “Inside”
Sucré
(non-album single)

81. “Flying Dreams”
Barenaked Ladies
Fake Nudes

82. “Summer Years”
Death Cab for Cutie
Thank You for Today

83. “Mystery of Love”
Sufjan Stevens
Call Me By Your Name OST

84. “Man of Stone”
Matthew Thiessen & The Earthquakes
Wind Up Bird

85. “Eat the Elephant”
A Perfect Circle
Eat the Elephant

86. “Jumbo”
Punch Brothers
All Ashore

87. “The Township of King”
Barenaked Ladies
Fake Nudes

88. “Forks”
Umphrey’s McGee
It’s Not Us

89. “End of the World with You”
Calexico
The Thread that Keeps Us

90. “TalkTalk”
A Perfect Circle
Eat the Elephant

91. “I Will / I Won’t”
Cool Hand Luke
Cora

92. “One”
Sleeping at Last
Atlas: Enneagram

93. “Crossing a Line”
Mike Shinoda
Post Traumatic

94. “Done with Those Days”
DeVotchKa
This Night Falls Forever

95. “Catch the Gleam”
Kindo
Happy However After

96. “Reunion”
Yoav
Multiverse

97. “Top of the World”
Kimbra
Primal Heart

98. “Love Letters”
DevotchKa
This Night Falls Forever

99. “I-89”
I’m with Her
See You Around

100. “His Heart Beats”
Andrew Peterson
Resurrection Letters, Vol. 1

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